Fishing with David LockwoodDavid Lockwood 

United Fishing Front

In a rare but increasing show of solidarity, commercial and recreational fishers last month fired broadsides at the same target – hastily declared marine parks and Labor’s proposed 1 million square kilometre marine park in the Coral Sea.

The commercial sector highlighted its plight by flying eminent marine scientist Dr Ray Hilborn, a Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at University of Washington, to Sydney and Canberra for a series of briefings to industry stakeholders and politicians.

Dr Hillborn released a paper titled “Australian Seafood Consumers misled by prophets of gloom and doom” that questions the motives of non-government organisations (NGOs) in perpetuating myths about the sustainability of Australian fisheries. Fact is, we import more than 70 per cent of the seafood we consume these days.

“Australia is subject to a relentless anti-fishing campaign that is causing doom and gloom myths from misrepresentations of overseas examples of inadequate fisheries management. I believe NGOs need the public to believe fisheries are in poor shape to boost their fundraising.

“It’s difficult to understand why the Australian public is not rejoicing in the success of its fisheries management and why Australians believe they need to implement additional, alternative restrictions on fishing, such as more fishing closures in marine parks,” Dr Hillborn said.

At the same time, the Australian Fishing Tackle Association (AFTA), formed in the early 1980s to promote angling and the tackle industry, released a new National Policy Platform to bring reason and rationale to marine parks debate.

“It should be remembered that recreational fishers are often the eyes and ears on our seas and oceans. There have been countless examples where it is the recreational fishers that have reported illegal fishing activities or environmental incidents to authorities.” AFTA states. Full policy at

Inland Sea

If water be the elixir of fish life then drink up. And that is what our native species are doing. Basking in this wide, brown, wet land after one of the most beneficial floods in the last century.

While native fish have adapted over thousands of years to inevitable Australian drought, many species like nothing better than a big flood to find their mate and embark on some backwater canoodling.

Golden perch – aka yellowbelly or ‘yellas’ – and the silver perch simply called bream by farmers, show enhanced breeding during floods. A rise in river levels of just 20cm can light the fish’s flame.

The mighty Murray cod, the king of our inland waterways and the namesake river system, uses flood waters to migrate as far as 100 kilometres upstream to spawn on the margins of river channels. After which the fish return to their favourite snags back downstream.

The benefits of a flood in Autumn are further reaching. The water bursts with zooplankton, small gudgeons and minnows. It’s vast and fertile.

The downside is that the noxious carp proliferate. But so, too, the revered trout found foraging about the freshly inundated lake and river margins. Already, brown trout are running in the highland rivers in preparation for spawning. April’s a great trouting month.

Such has been the rain that the Maritime Boating Safety Officer launched his boat from the car park before heading out to patrol Lake Jindabyne. The hire-boat office resembled a floating island, the flood gates were opening, as boaters were warned away. The trout, meanwhile, are drinking up.


Fish priced off the menu

With Asian-made tackle cheap as chips, it pays to catch your own. Especially when you look at the asking price of fish today. Fishmongers have priced themselves off the menu.

As much as I advocate buying local – that is, when you can’t catch a fish dinner yourself – it won’t surprise if you choose cut-price chicken instead. A combination of bad weather, high fuel prices, increasing regulation and foreign competition has kept many local trawlers at bay.

The resulting dearth of fish on the market floor has resulted in the highest prices ever. I reckon you can buy fish for less at Christmas. And I almost needed resuscitating after trawling past my local fishmonger last month.

The humble flathead fillet costs $49.90 per kilo, whiting fillets were $65 per kilo, and the asking price for snapper fillets was mid-$40 a kilo. Yellowfin tuna was $70 a kilo, too.
At the same time, you can buy a kilo boneless and skinless basa ‘dory’ fillet for $6.90. Now that’s more like it. Until you discover the ‘basa’ is a lowly catfish farmed in the fetid Mekong delta!

When we’re told to eat more seafood, that it is brain-food for our kids, that fish oil prevents heart disease, and we’re facing budgetary constraints, then affordable sells.
The local seafood industry needs to offer more options. Even if it’s cheap local fish that’s minced and turned into tasty fish cakes. Surely we can do better and cheaper.


Hawkesbury floods

Record rainfall not seen for more than a decade sparked flood warnings for the mighty Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers last month. While we hope people, livestock and property were spared, the water release from Warragamba and the subsequent big river flows are welcome.

For too long, the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury/Nepean have been choked with weed, overcome by blue-green algae, and clogged with debris. A big flush like this is nature’s way of purging the system – we trust sewerage overflows remain in check – and the last flood was more than 20 years ago.

Mind you, it’s not that the Hawkesbury doesn’t know flood.

There have been more than 60 floods since 1799, with last big ones occurring in 1961, 1964, 1978 and 1988. Old time river fishers talk of collecting floating watermelons, saving cattle and seeing snakes being washed into Broken Bay.

Savvy anglers, meanwhile, bank on the river’s legendary giant jewfish patrolling the river mouth. April’s a great time to find one. Think big, fish big, and put in the time.

fishDavid Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – April

After the best big wet in many years, the waterways are primed for a fishy April. In fact, many seasoned skippers were forecasting this to be a bumper month.

Commercial fishers in the Hawkesbury have their bream traps set in anticipation and one operator was seen hauling in a massive gillnet strung from West Head out towards Lion Island. It was loaded with bream and jewfish.

Despite freshwater still pouring out of the tributaries, the seasonal autumn aggregation of bream will only gather pace in the lower reaches of the Hawkesbury, Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay.

At the same time, luderick and trevally have arrived on the scene, while all the summer species bask in the warm currents. The best of both seasons in April.

To make things even better, the slowly fading wet La Nina will make way for steady weather this month. And we get our Easter holidays. This is always a time for fishing and eating fish. Just maybe a few more trawlers will put to sea and fish prices will head south.

But you should have no trouble catching your own this month. Where to start. Offshore. April is big blue marlin time. There were already plenty of blues about at the time of writing, only the fish are likely to be bigger this month. The warm 26C current pouring down the coast is to their liking.

As the current slows in April, you suddenly have a chance to plumb the deep reefs. This should yield some terrific mixed bags of tasty table fish. At the same time, a live bait cast around the fish-aggregating devices or FADs, or simply left out the back in a berley slick, will land big dolphin fish.

Closer in, the inshore reefs to the 40 metre depths will start producing snapper, trevally, kingfish, jewfish, teraglin, flathead on the sand and gravel edges, and more. 

Headlands and estuary mouths remain a happy hunting ground for surface fish, especially as the water clears. At the time of writing, the surface action reappeared in Pittwater with bonito, Watson’s leaping bonito, tailor and big yellowtail. Kingfish should be more common, too.

Flathead to 6kg have been washed out of hiding and should jump on jewfish baits this month. Meantime, there are oodles of 1-2kg flathead in the estuaries. Soft-plastic lure fishers and those in kayaks will clean up. Those aforesaid bream readying to migrate will be a welcome by-catch.

Beach fishing prospects are looking up in April. Try the rocky corners for bream, luderick and drummer. Count on catching whiting on live worms. And do soak a bait after dark – made easier post daylight savings – for jewfish.

Sydney Harbour has repositioned itself at the top of the pile following the stormwater runoff. Oodles of surface fish from Aussie salmon and tailor to bonito and frigate mackerel were zipping about as we went to press. Early morning sorties on the harbour in search of surface fish are wonderful in April.

Bigger kingfish have been holding around The Heads and the marker buoys, reports guide Stuart Reid. Squid needed to catch them were harder to find, but squid always abound when the water clears.

There are still striped marlin about the Car Park and some solid blue marlin out wide of Port Stephens. A few big marlin were hooked off Terrigal, too. But while the game fishing isn’t phenomenal, charter skippers were betting April will be a boom big-fish month.

Meantime, anglers in Sydney’s outskirts were preparing to fish the Nepean following Warragamba’s spill. After past water releases, good catches of trout and silver perch have been made in the system. Expect improved freshwater fisheries for many years to come.

The other interesting observation was the number of bronze whalers off Dobroyd Point in the harbour, where hairtail were reportedly taken in the past month. That’s a first for 50 years or so.

Bottom line? We’re looking at an unprecedented April, May and June.  All the signs point to terrific prospects and it wouldn’t surprise if the all-time best season for marlin experienced last month starts for other species. I’m putting the early money on bream, snapper, and trout.

Contact the writer at


Afloat Sydney Fishing Key April 2004Fishing Key —

BON    Bonito
A white-meat tuna, the bonito jumps onto trolled diving minnow lures. Try a Rapala CD7 or Bo-Bo in pilchard colour, pulled at 4-6 knots, about 60-100-metres off North and South heads and along other deep-water headlands at dawn. A snappy way to secure a feed.

B    Bream
Berleying with chopped pilchard and floating lightly weighted pilchard fillets back into the berley using light tackle and fine line. Suitable method from both boat and shore. Hook size No 1 to 2/0.

F    Flathead
Not the prettiest fish in the world, but the good ol’ Aussie flathead produces the perfect fish and chips. Boaties should drift over sand and gravel shoals with whitebait or whole, small pilchards set on the bottom. Shore-based anglers should cast cut baits or lures along the edge of sandy drop-offs on the falling tide. Hook size: 3/0.

J     Jewfish
Named after a bone resembling Jesus on the cross found in this fish’s skull, the jewfish requires more than just prayer to catch. Use large yellowtail or slimy mackerel fillets, live baits of pike, tailor or, better still, live squid for bait. Fish the deeper holes in the harbour or other estuaries when the tide peaks at dusk, especially around the full or no moon periods. Tackle: 15kg line, handline or stout rod, large bean sinker and 24kg trace with 6/0 hook, patience.

K    Kingfish
The kingfish are back in an imposing way. Best bet: whole live squid, squid heads or squid strips suspended two-thirds of the way to the bottom beside the Wedding Cakes or channel markers or along deep-water foreshores such as inner North Head.

S    Snapper
The prize of offshore angling, snapper prefer the change of seasons. Autumn is a good time to catch snapper off Sydney using cut pilchard, tuna or squid baits with just enough lead to drift them through a berley slick and onto the seabed. In deeper water, drift fishing with large sinkers will work. Try the 60 fathom reefs when the current eases in April and May.

T    Tailor
An aggressive schooling fish named for its ability to slash whatever poor fish crosses its path to ribbons, the tailor is an easy fish to catch. Troll or toss a silvery lure around the schools of fish seen jumping in the harbour in winter, cast a pilchard bait from the shores, or soak whole pilchards under the full moon and during the flood tide at Sow and Pigs or below The Spit bridge.

W    Whiting
Live worms are the ticket. Invest in about $10 or bloodworms or beachworms. Use 3-4kg line and a 20 gram sinker running to a swivel from which 40cm of line is tied to a No. 6 long shank hook. Cast baits in the gutters off beaches and drift or cast baits around the clean, quiet sandflats in the harbour.